Monday, November 15, 2010
Confessions of a Pretty Plus
When I was a kid I was obese. That is not an exaggeration, it’s a fact. It’s a scientific calculation based not only on BMI that was well over 30 at 10 years old but was also proven by the years of misery and torment that came from being an obese kid back when being the fat kid wasn’t cool.
I don’t mean that to sound like its cool now, but misery loves company. When I see children now I notice there are always several visibly overweight children in every grade at every school. I can’t help but remember that 20 years ago, I was the only one in my class, and for most of the time I was the only one in my grade. I was tormented daily by other children and myself.
Back in the early 90’s Sears is where I remember doing the most of my back to school shopping. Sears had a section with a big pink banner across the ceiling, tucked in the corner of the “girls” area by the dressing rooms. The big pink banner read “Pretty Pluses” and the section was full of the stores plus sized brand for girls “pretty plus.” I loathed shopping in a section that announced to the whole world that I couldn’t fit in anything the other girls could. I hated buying clothing with sizes twice my age, when my 10 year old friends wore size 10 and I was searching for 16s that were “snug.” This led to something that I still experienced even as soon as this last year, crying in dressing rooms. There was always the fight about how it “wasn’t that bad” there was telling the clerk that we “need to try a size bigger” there was seeing a really cool shirt or pair of pants and then realizing that they don’t make it in “my section” of the store. There’s wearing the same pair of jeans for all of your childhood that says right there on the tag what you and every other kid in your class is already telling you every day. You are fat. You will never be like the rest of them. They will be nice to you because their parents told them too. They will be mean to you because their parents didn’t tell them not too. You are alone in this body that you aren’t sure how was created. So jean shopping has always been somewhat traumatic for me. A note to any parent with an overweight child, don’t commiserate with moms of “skinny” girls about how hard it is to find big girl clothes. I remember wanting to crawl in a whole and die when my mother would talk to her friend who couldn’t find her daughter a small enough bathing suit in the “slim” section, about how hard it was to find one at all in the plus section. Children become aware of their bodies and their differences a lot sooner than their parents become aware of their feelings about it.
There was the every other day battle of Physical Education. Most days I could pretend to keep up. On Fridays there were always boys versus girls race where every week the boys would line up and put their fastest runner up against me to secure they had the lead. They would loudly calculate their plans to win again and get the prize. There was never a word from the teacher to change the line up or at least lower their voices. Occasionally she would put me up front hoping the rest of the girls would have a chance at catching up if they got me out of the way first. There was always a 5-10 second head start depending on how far behind we’d come in the week before. Then there was the dreaded physical fitness test each semester that gave me anxiety attacks. This was completed by testing agility of running through a zigzag maze, the 20 minute mile run, completing 30 sit ups in 2 minutes and then the dreaded fat tweezers for body fat % and the scale for BMI. Not only was it embarrassing to be the kid that was panting and crying at the end of the “20 minutes” and had never made it past half a mile…ever, in all semesters over my elementary career. There was always being the last to finish the sit ups and if I was really lucky, having a partner that would take mercy on me the last 15 and cheat when they counted. If I wasn’t lucky I had to grunt and press on and waiver and strain to get those last 10 done for several minutes after the others had stopped while they watched me struggle, like they always did, to finish the task. I’m sure my PE class hated my being there as much as I hated being there. Then if it wasn’t bad enough, we would line up and after we weighed in and our teacher would yell our weights out for all to hear, we would do the dreaded fat tweezers test, where not everyone’s percentages were read aloud, but mine always was. Like further embarrassment would motivate me to do more. 70% body fat. 30 BMI, Pretty Plus. The name calling. The note in my report card about fitness needing to be worked on at home, the warehouse sized box of cookies in the cabinet that my obese parents always kept fully stocked,
No wonder I hate my body.
My confession today I suppose is this,
At 26 years old I have lost 30-70lbs at least 6 times in 15 years. I spent several years actively perfecting my eating disorder and then years after some inpatient treatment trying to undo my eating disorder. This is not about that. This is about how 15 years later I still have to prove to myself that I do 30 sit ups in 2 minutes, even days after childbirth, to feel okay about myself. This is about my obsession with the number on the tag of my jeans more than the number on the scale. The preoccupation with “maybe 10 more pounds.” The awkward way I feel and strain to say thank you when people tell me how much I’ve lose or that I look good, because all I hear is how bad I must have looked before for them to notice now. My fear of the bacon gene.
The bacon gene is what I like to call the genetic predisposition that all fat kid arch enemies posses. The ability to eat anything and everything and remain twig like. The super metabolism that allows for a size 0 female to eat a pound of bacon, chase it with a dr pepper and never step on a scale or outgrown her pants. The girls I always wanted to be like. I will never be that girl. I CANNOT be that girl. My frame is built medium/large, even at my lowest weight my bones are bigger, hips are wider, and I’m just not made to be a size 2. I have only been able to admit that and be okay with it for a short time.
I’ve always been afraid of having a daughter. How would someone with the body image of a fat kid with a history like opera’s and the inner self talk of a bulimic possibly ever raise a daughter to do anything but hate herself. Who am I to set an example of anything? I was secretly relieved when my first two children were boys, I didn’t have to worry as much. Their father is a carrier of the bacon gene. His metabolism and my frame equals football player jealously and just the right amount of build and stocky with muscle. My boys have the perfect blend of what his father and uncles wish they’d had. I even had a brother in law tell me during my first pregnancy that he hoped my boys were big like me and tall like my husband and they’d be the envy of their peers. (great, yes, tell a pregnant woman she’s fat)
Then I had my daughter, and more recently, my second daughter. My oldest daughter who I feared so much has inherited from her aunts, grandmother, and father the bacon gene. She’s a tiny 18 percentile who can out eat her big brothers and never gain an ounce. A three year old bottomless pit that I think could put teenager boys to shame in a cookie eating contest. At the arrival of my second daughter she’s only an infant but I can already see her growth and body type following the pattern of her oldest brother, above average. I have a feeling that unlike her sister the baconater, this one got it from her momma. I can’t even begin to imagine what growing up with a baconater sister would have done to me.
I worry about both my girls. More than good health I wanted them to never worry about or hate their bodies. I wanted them spared of all the horrors of being different when they get to grade school, as superficial as it sounds I prayed for the bacon gene with every craving and round of morning sickness.
I resolved years ago to lead by example. If my children were going to have a chance to grow up and like themselves and their bodies then they needed what I grew up without. They needed someone to SHOW them what that looks like. They need to SEE exercise incorporated in life. They need to EAT and LEARN about nutrition, portions, balance. They need to feel good about themselves for what they are and not what they aren’t. I know what I want them to grow up feeling and learning. Now how am I, queen of disordered eating and bad body imagine, going to lead this little pack of future teenage girls in my mission to give them a life that never leaves them crying in a dressing room?
Leading this mission by example is probably the most difficult mission I’ve ever had. I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve had 4 children in 7 years while completing my bachelors and now working on my masters and none of that was as difficult and trying to cut myself some slack and teach myself how to feel good about me so they can feel good about themselves. I try not to say anything negative about myself in front of my kids. They see me workout, they occasionally work out with me in their own ways. My 4 year old likes to raise cans of soup like weights for a few reps. My 6 year old likes to make the elliptical go as fast as he can and my 3 year old daughter tries her best to do whatever funny looking yoga pose mom is doing. My mat isn’t usually long enough for the 3 or 4 of us trying to share it at once. Sit ups are difficult when someone is trying to hug you. Pushups are easier when there’s a 4 month old on the floor to kiss on the head each time you lower to the ground. Working out when they are here TAKES FOREVER. But we keep on doing it and when they’re older I will have more time to myself. I don’t want them to see me quit because I’m too tired or sick every day or I don’t want to. I take breaks and days off and when they ask why I didn’t work out that day we talk about it. We talk about what we’re eating and how to cook it and they help cook so they’ll appreciate that I’m TRYING to introduce them to healthy alternatives, but at the same time I’m learning myself, so it isn’t perfect. We try new recipes, I try to make them healthy, we add fresh ingredients, I bring in one change at a time and we go from there.
I guess the point is that as an adult I am just now in a place where I don’t hate everything about me and I am allowing myself to try to be the way I want my girls to be. We’re learning together. Every time I see the obese kids down the street walk to school it breaks my heart because I know the path she is on. I hope eventually it leads her somewhere she feels good about. I also know that what we learn and experience at that age can be detrimental to our futures.
Just last night I was lying in bed, I’m a pound from my goal, which happens to be 10 pounds above my lowest pre children weight, my muscle mass has increased so much I have no idea how strong I am anymore but I can see and feel the changes every day. I spent the day wearing my final pair of jeans, those small ones that live in a box in the closet that you don’t want to throw away because “someday they might fit again” even if you can’t get one leg in them. Those jeans fit. They say 4 on the tag. My size is no longer double my age but it matches the numbers of lives I’m responsible for. On paper I’m healthy and I’m in a good place. If I were anyone else looking at me I’d be proud. Suddenly my in-laws have begun having kids and reaching their 30s and the bacon gene is beginning to fail them, they are at a loss on what to do. They seem to look at me recently like i have some secret figured out and that I'm lucky that I'm not "getting old and fat" like they suddenly feel like they are. No, I'm not getting that way, I've already been there. They seem a little jealous and confused by my current situation. I am where I want to be, where I need to be and where on most days I can feel good about. Still last night I lay in bed considering my “mommy gut” and wiggle skin under my arms school teachers used to be mocked for, and my thighs where I have always carried most of my weight and began thinking “maybe 10 more pounds” as I picked apart what I disliked about each area and as my husband looked at me as if I were crazy and pointed out the muscles in each place and how much fat is “really” there versus how much I “think” there.
I am not 17 anymore. The only thing I’d want to have anything to do with my 17 year old self is maybe my Abs! I am almost 30; I have given birth to 4 children, the last being only 5 months ago. I am in a good place; I have to learn to let that be enough. My confession I suppose is that I am still struggling to prove something to myself and the world every day. I see it on the faces of the kids I see when I’m out in public. I don’t blame the media, the elementary school gym class got to me YEARS before Cosmo and Kate Moss did.
These kids are the future and we are the ones responsible for giving them the tools they need in the future. I worry that all these kids will end up like me, or will give up in general and live life morbidly obese and dying young like I see so many peers doing. And if that is the case for my generation then what kind of lives are we setting up our children and our grandchildren for?
My new goal is not to “loose ten more pounds…” but to find peace with myself and maintain the progress I have made. To treat myself and my body as I would my friends, or my daughters. To stop saying things to myself that I would never say to anyone else. To let go of the “pretty plus” jeans and their hold on me, and just be. This part is so much harder than losing the weight ever was.